Page images
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

ز

THE LAW OF CHANGE AND ITS DIFFICULTIES. THERE is a cry of alarm in the land; men fear that the discussion of sacred topics will destroy all our religious ideas, and it is believed by thousands that the hour is at hand when for 'the safety of society'a stop must be put to all such inquiries. We do not believe in the theory that the religious ideas can be destroyed; still less that the prevailing spirit of inquiry will ultimately end in evil. We have no desire to impair the religious emotions, and are perfectly certain that the present attitude of Freethinkers will not be changed by means of any coercive force the State can bring to bear to crush their endeavours after liberty of heart and mind. Still, however, we are quite conscious of the fact that a time of fearful strife is at hand; but the nation will pass through it without either ruining its piety or marring its peace of mind. There is no chance of our being lost while we keep our faces toward the East, for kindly nature never yet refused to renew the lease of life to any nation that was brave enough to do battle for the truth.

The histories that have been handed down from aucient days are well stored with facts which may be used by the philosopher, much the same as the cheerful lights upon our coasts are used by the mariner, as beacons to warn him in steering the vessel of state from those rocks and shoals which threaten destruction. Every one of those facts is as valuable to us as a fact of the present century. It is true that humanity progresses, and true also that the nations of the nineteenth century are very differently situated to those who dwelt in Babylon, or fought the battles of Greece. Still, the characteristic features of humanity being the same in all ages, the spirit and meaning that underlie the old facts must be of great value to all generations, although probably their mere external force may become useless and even ridiculous. Greece, Rome, and Eygpt are mirrors for all ages and nations, and in spirit the heroes of the three countries are examples for all time. Not that they exhausted the possible in humanity, or even reached near to the highest point of development. They lived their best, and the poorest hind of the nineteenth century may see through their lives to beco nobler and better.

One of the facts embodied in those histories—a fact pregnant with lossons to be conned by all citizens who belong to a nation that is passing through Vol. V. NEW SERIES, Vol. I.

с

the throes of transition is to the effect that all serious national changes, no matter how highly beneficial, are invariably accompanied by painful excitement and serious difficulties--that they are never effected without creating much tribulation, calling forth strong passions, and seeming to threaten the dissolution of the nation. It is with nations as in the state of fever with the individual; there are hours when it seems that the sufferer is sinking fast away, but the struggle over, the patient legins again to renew his health, and recovers his vigour. Before the new can be raised up the old must be disunited, thrown into confusion, and shattered; but standing amid this wřeck of the past there are thousands who are overcome by their fears that the future cannot become beautiful, and that society will not again be secure. There are men who desire to see good replace evil; but without incurring the dangers which accompany change. They go forth to speak their thoughts of what should be done; but immediately excitement follows upon the heels of their speech, they begin to inveigh against the follies of society, and then to withdraw themselves from the position of reformers, declaring it to be better to bear the ills we have than to hurry into others whose girth we cannot estimate. Good-meaning but mole-eyed men are they ; for the greater the change proposed, the greater must be the excitement; so that at times it will appear as if the nation lie in the very jaws of death, when in truth it is only passing through the throés of a new life. The sick eagle has a sore time of it in its eyrie ere it can get the new feathers, and dash off against the hard rock the old beak to make way for a fresh one; but such is the order of Nature. Even in our childhood, how impossible it was to get the new set of teeth without the allowance of aches, pains, and fever. Nations must have their teething-times or perish, for either they must mount higher in aiin and effort or sink from Nature's face as no longer capable of good.

As in this teething process, the new is silently prepared before the change is wrought, so also in nations; for the elemental parts of the new order of things are prepared in the minds and hearts of those who take active part in promoting real progress. Our own age, acknowledged to be transitional, furnishes an illustration. For some time it a body of earnest men have been very actively and noisily engaged in questioning and pulling the old to pieces. They are at work with a will, and hence the terrible gaps they have made in the old systems of theology and the formal schemes of worship. The Church, with its paraphernalia of ritual and copes, of services and robes, of litanies and çensers, of chaunting boys and intoning priests, has been weighed in the balances and found wanting. The entire system has been anatomised in the most painfully minute manner to find if aught of nobleness and manly worth, of soul and religious spirit, remained in the body, and the report says that no trace of life could be found in any part, save in the treasury. Naturally enough, they who have believed in its vitality refuse to credit this report, and hence the efforts now being made to prove it to be false. Hence it comes that St. Paul's, the Abbey, with a few other theatres not generally used for religious purposes, are opened for evening worship, and that various of our London churches have been dusted out to be used on week-day evenings, at which even Bishops have been advertised to play a part. Through these movements it is hoped the nation will be persuaded that the Church has not surik into hopeless decay; but the efforts are as vain as they are painful. The whole affair reminds us of a sad sight which, as one of a party, we witnessed mañiy years ago on the Southampton Water. With light hearts we had permitted our boat to sweep down with the stream, and as the declining rays of the

[ocr errors]

а

sun lit up the face of the water, our minds were filled with the most pleasurable emotions. Suddenly one of the party raised the cry, “There's a man in 'the water some distance ahead!' and sure enough side-face to us were the head and breast of a man who seemed to be playing familiarly with the rippling waves, for he swayed backward and forward with great ease and regularity. At first we were alarmed, for surely no swimmer would be there; and yet the alarm subsided when we saw how easily the body moved with the waters, and how gracefully it gave way to the gentle pressure of the waves. Swiftly we plied the oars, until the prow of the boat was within ten yards of a corpse, whose head and breast, through the power of corks beneath the arms, were kept above the surface. It was a hideous sight, for there was a seeming life, and yet death had triumphed. Such is the Church of our times. Its head is kept up by corks, but it has no internal vitality.

Yet to blot it out, with all the intolerance, and selfishness, and false theologies it has generated, will be a painful task. It cannot be performed without giving rise to excitement, contention, and other evil conditions; still, we have this fact for our consolation, that the evils in another form must be endured even if we avoided those associated with its overthrow. When the leg is in a state of gangrene it is dangerous to remove it, but certain death to let it remain. It will be certain death to England to permit our ecclesiastical system to continue. How can it live usefully when its roots have died out of all men's hearts? Its unpaid friends rally to its aid more because they fear the consequences of its removal, than because they believe it capable of doing good. Their fears are as childish as happily their efforts are vain. Let the dead be decently buried lest they breed diseases among the living. The Church can do no more than preserve formality and breed hypocrisy. It can gain an outward approval which gives the lie to the inward denial, but it cannot promote the growth of manhood. There are Freethinkers in its ministry, but they wear a mask, and seem to be what they are not. Better, then, to endure any agony than to become a nation of hypocrites. The evil cannot be staved off, therefore let it be dealt with manfully. And if we have to pass through great tribulation and agony; if we have to endure an amount of mental suffering such as our ancestors never dreamt of, still it is our duty to press on, saying in the noble words of Paine, If there be evil, and trouble, and war, let them come in our time, so that we may give our children the opportunity of living at peace with all mankind.

P. W. P.

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE REFORMATION.-II.

a

THE CHURCH OF THE DARK AGES. We take our stand on the verge of Antiquity. It is the year, 500. Thirty years ago Rome was sacked by the Vandals ; four years after that the last of the Roman Emperors was dethroned, and his place filled for a few troubled years by Odoacer, the first barbarian king of Italy. He, too, has passed away, and the rule of Theodoric the Goth is now established in Italy. Theodoric, though history calls him a barbarian, was a man of no small genius, 'a hero,

a philosopher, and a statesman.' Comparing the prosperous and happy condition of the Romans under his government with their wretchedness under the Empire, comparing his equity and statesmanship with the injustice and

a

folly of the Emperors, we are inclined to ask, Who were the real barbarians P -the Romans, or those who conquered them? The aim of Theodoric was a noble and a wise one ; he sought to fuse Roman and Goth into a new people ; an aim which, if successful, would have enabled us to date from his reign the commencement of a new civilisation for Europe. The government of Theodoric was just, and the people happy; but, alas ! justice and wisdom must fail in the presence of bigotry and superstition on the part of those they wish to serve.

It is necessary, in estimating the Church of the Dark ages, to show how large a part her influence, and the superstition and bigotry fostered by priestcraft, had in preventing the success of the aims of Theodoric, and in producing the consequent anarchy, with the mental and moral darkness, which succeeded the destruction of the Gothic kingdom of Italy. This is the more necessary from the false teaching which is prevalent on the subject, by which the darkness and misery of the Middle Ages are charged upon the Goths and other barbarians, whereas to the Church they are mainly attributable.

Theodoric failed in making his kingdom permanent, because, by his tolerance of heretics, he roused the enmity of the Church ; moreover he himself was an Arian and a heretic. The benefits bestowed by him were all forgotten in hatred for the man who refused to persecute the enemies of the Church; and the very happiness enjoyed under his government was bitter to a supersti. tious and bigoted people. It was not enough that he respected the religious liberty of all; as an Arian, and one who tolerated Jews, heretics, and Pagans, he was hateful to the Church and priest-led people. The Church preached, and the people conspired against him; and so, when Justinian, the Greek Emperor, made war on the Gothic kingdom, he succeeded in destroying it, because the Church and the Catholics aided him in every way possible. By thus contributing to the overthrow of the Gothic monarchy, the Church restored the reign of anarchy in Italy. The weakness of the Greeks at home prevented their establishing a strong rule in Italy, and before the arms of the Lombards, and the encroachments of the Popes, every vestige of the authority set up by Justinian was lost ere many years had elapsed. By these means all the wise aims of Theodoric were frustrated, and the designs of the Church assisted. It was now the Papacy was founded, and with the growth of priestly power and influence we mark the gradual degradation of the intelligence and morality of Europe in the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries, until we arrive at the time when intellect was prostrate, morality forgotten, and the priest the only teacher.

Waddington, the Church historian, states that, “ In the course of the sixth “century profane learning entirely disappeared, together with the means of

acquiring it, and before its conclusion the office of instruction had passed entirely into the hands of the clergy."* The canon passed at a council

, held in the year 529, relating to the system of education to be adopted is instructive on this point : "Let all priests" (so it runs) "receive the younger “ readers into their houses with them, and, feeding them like good fathers " with spiritual nourishment, labour to instruct them in preparing the Psalms, “ in industry of holy reading, and in the law of the Lord.” Thus, it was only the persons who were destined for the priesthood, (for such is the meaning of the term 'younger readers,') who were to be educated at all, and they only in holy reading, and with spiritual nourishment.' Pope Gregory the Great, who reigned in the sixth century, and was reckoned the most learned man of his time, knew nought of secular learning; and so great was his horror of it, that on a bishop making a classical allusion, he reproved him by saying,

Hist, Church. Library of Useful Knowledge. p. 317.

[ocr errors]

6

a

" It is not meet that lips consecrated to the praises of God should open to " those of Jupiter.” How great a change had now been accomplished we may judge, wben we remember that down even into the Gothic time, schools, supported by the government, had continued to instruct the youth (of Italy at least) in the various branches of civil education. But the work of the priest in the first half of the sixth century, had not only caused the final extinction of the last remnants of the ancient philosophy and learning, by the suppression of the Athenian Schools, thus preventing the Western youth from seeking in Greece what they could not find at home, but, by overturning the wise and tolerant monarchy of Theodoric, and making room for the growth of the Popedom, had destroyed all kinds of education, except the spiritual nourishment' before spoken of. Thenceforth ignorance flourished under priestly patronage.

The Dark Ages exhibit to us most forcibly the necessary connection existing between ignorance on the one hand, and vice and misery on the other. All the ties which bind men together in society were loosed, and society itself must have been destroyed, but for the growth of a kind of order under the name of Feudalism. This was the first attempt made to reduce the chaos into form, but the bond established by it was merely that of baron and retainer, of master and slave; it was a brotherhood among banditti, and society became divided into two great classes - oppressors and

oppressed. There was plenty, perhaps happiness, in the feudal castle, but the plenty there was the result of robbery and violence practised on the poor serf; and every barony represented a kingdom perpetually at war with those surrounding it. Under this feudal system the misery of the great mass of men was equalled only by the tyranny and demoralisation of the barons and the clergy. “During the struggles of this frightful period,” says Waddington, “ the defence of the tower of knowledge, as heretofore its construction, was “ entrusted by Providence to ecclesiastical hands, while its walls were inces“santly menaced or violated by the lawless military aristocracy, which had

closely wrapped itself in ignorance, and was partly jealous and partly con"temptuous of every exertion to improve and enlighten mankind." Ву way of commentary on his own statement, just quoted, he continues : “ are not surprised to observe that a condition of civil demoralisation, such as “then existed, should have been attended by corruption in every rank of the "clergy. The bishops were negligent and immoral, and the inferior orders "indulged in still grosser vices, and more offensive indecencies ; and we may "be well assured that the laity were still further debased by the example of “deformities which their own turbulence had so greatly tended to create."'* Most ingenious special pleading truly! We call the attention of our readers to this passage, for two reasons ; first

, because it contains, on the part of one who would willingly shield the Church, the full admission of the demoralisation of the clergy; secondly, and more especially, because it contains, on the part of an admitted authority, the bold statement of errors, common enough it is true, but unjustifiable on the part of a learned man, with reference to the relation of the Church to intelligence during those ages-errors, however, which are fostered by Priestcraft, in order that it may mislead the general mind, and ward off from itself the charge of having contributed to, or rather caused, the moral stupefaction and the gross immorality of those feudal times.

The statement that " the construction of the tower of knowledge," was due to ecclesiastical workmen, is one of which the merest tyro in history must

* Hist. Church, Library of Useful Knowledge. p. 319,

- We

a

a

« EelmineJätka »